One wayward pitch ended Adam Greenberg’s Major League Baseball career on the same day it began, on a breezy July night in Miami seven years ago. The 92-mph fastball thrown by a Marlins pitcher struck Greenberg in the back of his helmet, knocked him to the ground and left him with mental and physical scars that prevented his return to the majors.
Greenberg became a baseball footnote after that: the only player, of the more than 18,000 who have played in the majors, whose career ended with one pitch. And because he was hit by a pitch, Greenberg was not credited with an official at-bat.
But in a story that is reminiscent of the character Moonlight Graham in the movie Field of Dreams, Greenberg on Tuesday will go from footnote to feel-good story. The Marlins announced that they intend to sign Greenberg, 31, to a one-day contract that will enable him to fulfill his dream of receiving an official at-bat in the majors. He will bat Tuesday at Marlins Park against the New York Mets.
“It’s a dream come true, part two,” Greenberg said.
Said Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria: “He has earned his chance as his love and passion for the game never diminished, despite his career tragically being cut short.”
It was on July 9, 2005, while making his major-league debut as a pinch-hitter for the Chicago Cubs, that Greenberg was struck in the head on the first pitch thrown to him by Marlins reliever Valerio de los Santos. Greenberg crumpled to the ground.
“I lost control of my eyes and thought my head was split open,” Greenberg recalled of that moment. “I never lost consciousness. I grabbed my head, and I kept saying, ‘Stay alive.’ ”
Greenberg was removed from the game and helped off the field.
It would turn out to be Greenberg’s only major-league appearance.
Afterward, he struggled with post-concussion syndrome, double vision, nausea and vertigo and was never able to return to the majors. After a number of years in the minors and independent leagues trying to make it back, Greenberg finally stopped playing.
But after the Marlins heard about a campaign designed to help Greenberg receive an official at-bat in the majors, they decided to give it a try. After all, they are out of contention, as is their opponent on Tuesday, the New York Mets.
“This is going way beyond just one at-bat, and beyond sports,” Greenberg said.
Said Marlins infielder Greg Dobbs: “It’s a noble thing. It’s a pretty tough thing he’s gone through.”
Greenberg was playing for Team Israel in a World Baseball Classic qualifying round in Jupiter last week when Marlins president David Samson, after receiving permission from MLB commissioner Bud Selig, called him with the news. He said that he broke down in tears.
Greenberg would not be the first player to receive a major-league at-bat under special circumstances. Eddie Gaedel, a 3-foot-7-inch dwarf, was allowed to bat once for the 1951 St. Louis Browns as part of a publicity stunt. Graham, who played two innings in the outfield for the 1905 New York Giants but never once batted, was immortalized in Field of Dreams.
Until Greenberg, Fred Van Dusen of the 1955 Philadelphia Phillies is the only other player in major-league history to be hit with a pitch in his only major-league plate appearance without ever taking the field.
But Greenberg doesn’t consider his circumstances to be comparable to Gaedel’s, or that he has somehow subverted the traditional path to the majors by not earning his way.
“This was never a gimmick,” Greenberg said. “I got to the major leagues on my own merit, and I worked through the ranks as a little kid all the way up, and I earned that spot seven years ago. So the fact this is my not my first at-bat, that’s important. It’s just not, ‘Poor kid, let’s give him a shot.’ ”
Greenberg has agreed to donate his one-day salary (about $2,600) to the Marlins Foundation, which will then make a donation to the Sports Legacy Institute, an organization that advances the study, treatment and prevention of the effects of brain trauma in athletes.
Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said he is considering starting Greenberg in left field on Tuesday, have him bat leadoff against R.A. Dickey — the Mets’ scheduled starter — and then promptly remove him from the game.
“If he hits a home run, he [stays in the game],” Guillen said with a wink. “If he’s out, he’s gone. I think that’s the easier way.”
Greenberg said he will not be treating his at-bat as some lark.
“When I get in the box, it’s game time,” he said. “My job is going to be to get on base.”
But, ultimately, Greenberg said the outcome of his at-bat is less important than the message he hopes it sends.
“Life’s going to throw you curveballs ... or a fastball to the back of your head,” Greenberg said. “I got hit by one of them. It knocked me down.
“I could have stayed there. I had a choice. I could have said poor me. I chose to get up and get back in the box. That’s the kind of message to everyone, that whatever is going on in their personal lives, get back up. Good things happen. Sometimes it takes seven years.”